18 Dec 20
Posted by: Paul Quinn

One of the most remarkable events in my naval career was the day in 1990 when over 200 women joined HMS Invincible on the same day as part of the ‘Women to Sea’ policy in the Royal Navy.  This change had been bitterly fought over in the corridors of power and all of those brave women faced a battle for recognition and acceptance; a battle that has continued since then for their sisters. Surveys and studies since then have shown that women face huge challenges in making progress in male-dominated professions and sadly the number of women promoted to senior positions remains disappointingly small.

Jennifer Wittwer’s book comes as a practical guide to women in how to manage in such professions, deeply rooted in her own successful career in the Royal Australian Navy and her development into an internationally recognised figure in gender-related issues.  She populates richly her cogent advice with examples from her own life, some of which make difficult reading given their raw and upsetting facts, and some from the front line in Afghanistan.

This book isn’t a biography but a primer for professional women full of excellent and practical advice, taking a modern coaching and mentoring approach.  She addresses face-on the self-defeating tactics that some women use to fit in, such as becoming ‘one of the boys’, or relying on excessive feminisation.  It was on page 113 that the book came into sharp focus for me, I quote: “You just need to be you, just your authentic self – someone not afraid to be themselves, and not afraid of their femininity”.

The theme of women achieving authenticity in their professional roles, despite challenging behaviour in the workplace, is the bedrock of the many tools, hints and tips that garland this ground-breaking book.  The author is someone who has faced many (or most) of the difficulties of a male dominated culture, but powered through to become an advisor at the highest level of the Australian Defence Forces, operational theatres and in the United Nations.  It is, therefore, not a work to be dismissed lightly by those responsible for improving the gender-related behaviours and culture in their own organisations.  It has been written for women and I have suggested to the author that a similar volume of practical advice and guidance of achieving culture change for leaders would be an invaluable addition.

I am delighted to say that she writes authentically in the first person which makes the book very accessible and easy to read. The production standard is high and it is soft backed and can easily fit into a day bag for ready consultation or reading on the train!

Very highly recommended for women making their way in demanding male-dominated professions, particularly the Armed Forces and enlightened leaders of the opposite sex who want to make things better for their female colleagues.